[20 May 2010]
I want games to be imaginative and creative, to show me something that I haven’t seen before, or a to present a new perspective on something that I thought I was familiar with. Part of that can come from the game’s look and setting but only part of it. To really succeed, a game has to not only contain imaginative elements, it has to inspire the imaginations of those of us holding the controller. Lost Planet 2 has some striking creative pieces: giant monsters, exciting exoskeletons, and a few inspired settings. But these are mere window dressing for a core gameplay experience that not only doesn’t inspire my imagination, it actively mounts an all-out offensive against it.
Lost Planet 2 wants you to play co-op. That’s great, co-op games are fun, and I like it when developers really support it. It does cause some initial confusion that the only way to start the single player campaign is to create what looks like an online game, even if you’re not connected to the internet. But that’s just a user interface issue. Then the game begins, and you’re teamed up with three AI controlled comrades, who have their names floating above their heads. Names like, Redx4, Death Summer, and Mr baykal, that are meant to sound like fake gamer tags. Who the hell thought this was a good idea? Because it’s really not. Seeing your friends’ gamer tag when playing co-op is okay because you know he’s there, you have a whole host of associations with that person, and you can hear their voice. Who are these AI goobers with lame gamer tags? How does this do anything other than rip away at my already fraying suspension of disbelief?
I actually think that this is a big lost opportunity for Lost Planet 2. They could have spent some time expanding on the gamer tag concept and working it into their science fiction. Maybe in the future people all go by their screen names. Maybe personal identities have become malleable and idiosyncratic so that even our names are fungible. That at least would have been creative, a decision meant to evoke a sense of other world and place. But no, that’s not what’s going on. Indeed, we get very little innovation on the name front here. Instead we get to fight Snow Pirates and Jungle Pirates. At least they could have been Jungl3_Pir8s_420.
Then there are those much-lauded giant monsters that, while not always well integrated into the paper thin plot, always look pretty damn cool. Being a little guy fighting a big monster is always either a little or a lot ridiculous to me, but good games help me see past the fact that it should just squash me and enjoy the battles (see God of War or Shadow of the Colossus). Bad games turn it into an exercise in tedium. Lost Planet 2 errs on the side of tedium, but no more so than many games. For me, the biggest failure is a tiny matter: when the monster dies, it shoots forth a perfect arc of glowing boxes that you must run quickly to in order to get the bonus power or energy or whatever it’s supposed to reward you with. Don’t get there fast enough and they fade away, or sometimes the level ends. This tired trope works fine in an old Mario game, but in your hard core, gorgeous-looking 3D shooter, it’s just incredibly silly and off-putting. It’s hard to imagine a better way of taking the wind out of an epic monster battle and reminding you that “THIS IS A GAMEY GAME GAME!!!”
But nothing sucks the life out of a game like frustrated repetition, and given Lost Planet 2‘s bizarre retro checkpointing and save system, you’re going to be repeating big chunks of the game, especially if you get a phone call while playing. Activating waypoints in a level gives you new spawn points (and, yes, you respawn into a level, just like it was a multiplayer death match), but you only have a limited amount of respawns. And if you die with no more battle points during a tough part, like, say, on the last boss of a level, you’ll need to repeat the whole thing. And like the excurciatingly tough Demon’s Souls, this game doesn’t let you pause the action because it’s always pretending you’re playing a multiplayer match, even when you’re not. I died fighting a boss while answering the phone. At that moment, I was glad that I was writing a column and not a review because I knew that I’d never want to finish the game.
Lost Planet 2 is mired in its gaming roots. It looks good on the screen and the action is mostly fun, if not innovative or snappy. But there’s no sense of style or fun or seriousness or, well, anything here. It’s just this game where you shoot stuff that happens to have a crappy save system and bad UI. I’m always surprised when this much time, energy, money, and talent goes into what should’ve been a AAA title and yet doesn’t have the imagination or panache of a made for TV monster movie.